This particular issue of Automobile Magazine could give you the wrong idea. For instance, you might think that my life is a whirlwind of exotic automobiles. You might think that I approach the car sign-out board each evening racked with indecision over which supercar to whisk homethe Mercedes-Benz SLR Mclaren, the Porsche Carrera GT, or the Ferrari Challenge Stradale, darling.
That would be so wrong. If you notice, it was Mark Gillies driving the most exotic Mercedes-Benz in decades, and he was flown to South Africa for his trouble. It was a rare and shining moment in his already fabulous career. It’s one I’m not likely to share, as there will be a handful of SLRs produced, and it’s unlikely that one will pass through rural Michigan anytime soon. This is not the first supercar to pass through the pages of this magazine that I, like you, will drive only vicariously. There was the Ford GT (I still have hopes), there was the Ferrari Enzo Ferrari, and I’ve yet to drive the “old” Ferrari F50. It’s not right, is it?
To add insult to injury, when the invitation came to fly to Germany for a quick spin in the super-Porsche that never made it to Le Mansthe ridiculously too fast and too furious Carrera GTI had a previous, unchangeable (sob) commitment. In fact, we all did. We were in Kentucky and Tennessee on our annual All-Stars test drive. The entire staff. Whom could we possibly find to go in our stead?
It made perfect sense. Seinfeld is a Porsche freak; everyone knows that. He owns at least one of every good Porsche ever made, so his judgment is sound and has real merit, right? I made the call.
“You know you’ve always wanted to be an automotive journalist,” I wheedled.
“Did I tell you that? Did you guess that? Why did you just say that?” Seinfeld asked, apparently not quite forgetting that he had told me of this teenage pipe dream some ten years ago.
“You know you do,” I continued. “I think you should write for us.”
“Jean, why do you think I walked away from millions at NBC? I just don’t want to work that hard anymore. And when I write, I worry over every single word.”
“I’m not going to pay you,” I explained carefully.
“Oh, of course you’re not,” he said in that Seinfeld voice. You know the one.
“I want you to go on a press trip to Germany and drive the new Carrera GT. You know, the one that”
“YES!” he shouted. “Yes! Sign me up, boss!”
“What’s a press trip?” he continued.
This was the hard part. I looked at Eddie Alterman, sitting across the desk, listening by speaker phone with his fist in his mouth, he was so excited.
“Tell him it’s like going on vacation with people you can’t stand,” muttered Alterman.
I explained the part about other journalists being there, too. I gave him the date for the U.S. press visitation. (That’s what Porsche likes to do: set up a location, then run different nationalities of journalists through the tech drill and test drive. Germany always gets to go first, of course, but I’m not bitter.)
“I can’t make it,” he said. “I have a stand-up gig in Long Beach.”
“Bummer. Okay, I have another idea. There’s this vintage Saab,” I began. I didn’t get far.
“What? That’s it? It’s OVER?!?” he shouted into the phone. “No Porsche, now a Saab? You’re not even going to try to get me another date? NO!” he said. “No Saab!”
I’m sure it wasn’t personal about the Saab. The Saab was really cool. But I could see his point. Plus, I had him, at that point, begging to write for us. Maybe I could get Porsche to sneak him in with the Polish journalists . . .
And that’s what happened. Not just Poles but a couple of Greeks and a few Swedes, too, as it turned out.
Here’s what else happened. It took a month to sort out the logistics because Seinfeld also had a stand-up gig in the Pacific Northwest the day he was to fly back from Leipzig. So he chartered his own private plane to make sure he made the real paying gig.
“You’re flying from Europe private?” I asked, incredulous. “Private? What does that mean, exactly?”
“It means,” he explained, “that never has one paid so much to make so little.”
The point here being that not only do I not get to drive every cool car you see in this magazine, but there are writers out there who will pay stupidly huge sums for that rare opportunity.
And so he went.
I was dying to hear from him. I gave him three days of recovery, then called.
“Don’t you owe someone a call?” I said. “Are you torturing me?”
“Okay,” he said. “It was the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me in my life except for my family. It was amazing. It was unbelievable.”
He is truly one of us. No one could have remained blasé in the face of such an experience, no matter what you might think of us.
“Let’s talk deadline,” I delicately suggested.
“Deadline? DEADLINE?!?” he shouted into the phone. “I couldn’t sleep all night, I was so excited. I wrote it already. It’s done. Where should I send it?”
So, now he not only gets to drive the supercar that I didn’t get to drive, but he manages to turn in the story before there’s even a deadline to blow. How much worrying over every word could there have been, I ask you? Hire an amateur, and this is what you get. All I have to say is: Turn to page 82, and read for yourself.
We’re negotiating the next Seinfeld moment. It is unlikely to involve a Saab.
There is a happy ending to this column for its author. In a rare Michigan Ferrari moment, a Challenge Stradale arrived for All-Stars photography. And the editor-in-chief had her hand out for the keys upon its arrival.
Most of my finest Ferrari moments have happened in Italy. When the rare visitations occur in my backyard, I must meditate carefully and responsibly upon duty. That is, extended exposure to state and local law enforcement officers as I give endless harrowing rides to friends and family, who shout under acceleration, who scream under hard braking, and who ask, horrified, “What is that awful noise in the front end when you go over bumps?”
And I get to tell them that we are in a racing car with no sound deadener, with no padding, with no air conditioner, no radio, no carpeting. It is nothing but the sound a perfect machine makes as it rockets down the road, all muscles taut, joints flexing, heart pumping fit to burst.
And they get it. They all get it.